CHRISTMAS IN ENGLISH POETRY
its exquisite verbal music and delightful colour, and William Morris's less successful " Masters, in this hall," and " Outlanders, whence come ye last ? " are the work of unbelievers and bear witness only to the aesthetic charm of the Christmas story ; but there are others, mostly from Roman or Anglo-Catholic sources, of real religious inspiration.* The most spontaneous are Christina Rossetti's, whose haunting rhythms and delicate feeling are shown at their best in her songs of the Christ Child. More studied and self-conscious are the austere Christmas verses of Lionel Johnson and the graceful carols of Professor Selwyn Image. In one poem Mr. Image strikes a deeper and stronger note than elsewhere ; its solemn music takes us back to an earlier century :—
" Consider, O my soul, what morn is this !
Whereon the eternal Lord of all things made,
For us, poor mortals, and our endless bliss,
Came down from heaven ; and, in a manger laid, The first, rich, offerings of our ransom paid :
Consider, O my soul, what morn is this ! " *6
Not a few contemporary poets have given us Christmas carols or poems. Among the freshest and most natural are those of Katharine Tynan, while Mr. Gilbert Chesterton has written some Christmas lyrics full of colour and vitality, and with a true mystical quality. Singing of Christmas, Mr. Chesterton is at his best ; he has instinctive sympathy with the spirit of the festival, its human kindliness, its democracy, its sacramentalism, its exaltation of the child :—
" The thatch of the roof was as golden
Though dusty the straw was and old ; The wind had a peal as of trumpets,
Though blowing and barren and cold.
* Browning's great poem, " Christmas Eve," is philosophical rather than devotional, and hardly comes within the scope of this chapter.